TLC are leading a new generation of empowered women
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TLC are leading a new generation of empowered women

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Even with the conclusion of their career under this instantly-recognisable name looming overhead, the group’s surviving members – Tionne Watkins (aka T-Boz) and Rozonda Thomas (aka Chilli) – have made a point of racing toward the finish line, rather than run out of steam.

“There was a great energy going into making this album,” says Thomas. “That’s because we were approaching it by thinking outside of the box. I’d like to think TLC has always done things differently. To go through Kickstarter was something new for us, and it was humbling to have so many people support us and tell us that our music was still relevant to them and their lives.

“We know that we have a reputation to uphold, and that our albums have always told very important stories to people. We wanted to keep that consistent, and that’s something we were able to achieve. We got in the lab and got to work – we knew we had to make it count.”

The final TLC album was made possible due to a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign, which garnered a whopping US$150,000 within 48 hours of the site going live and would go on to accumulate a further US$250,000 on top of that. The album, for which recording was completed two months ago, is reported to have 15 songs and looks to place a bookend on the group’s patented blend of pop, R&B, soul and hip hop.

“One thing that was different on this album was that we were working with a lot of new people,” says Thomas. “I don’t think anybody who has worked on our albums in the past was a part of this album. We wanted to have Dallas [Austin] involved, but he was too caught up with working with other artists over in London. We brought in people that were new to the way that we work, and I think that’s a very powerful element on this album.

“We’re shouting out to artists like Prince, Michael Jackson, James Brown – some of the greats. I probably shouldn’t be so excited about all of this – it might jinx it – but I’m excited for you and for everyone to hear this album. I hope you all love it as much as I do.”

Through the messages of songs like No Scrubs and Unpretty, TLC established themselves as a key part of pop music’s girl power movement in the ‘90s – emphasising empowerment and self-confidence to an entire generation of young women and girls that perhaps couldn’t see themselves in the other popstars of the time. There’s a clear feminist subtext to the legacy of TLC, although that wasn’t entirely clear to the group themselves at first. “When people started putting that label on us when we were starting out, we were confused,” says Thomas.

“We were all like, ‘What? No, we’re not.’ We were under the impression, somehow, that it was a negative thing. As time went on, and the more we thought about it, we came to realise that wasn’t the case at all. Being empowering to women of any kind was a good thing, in our eyes.

“Even when we were starting out, we knew we wanted to be doing something different. What was important to us was taking a stance in what we believed in. We had no idea it was going to touch people the way that it did. It resonated on so many levels, and it became important to us that we continued to be ourselves. By doing that, we allowed people to embrace their differences and be proud of them. We walked with confidence so our fans could do the same.”

The final TLC tour will see Australian and New Zealand fans being some of the first to see the group off. Thomas says that the reach of TLC’s music, even after so many years, is something that blows her away. Among those that come to see them these days are the women that grew up idolising them, a younger age group that didn’t get to see them in their commercial peak and even a couple of small surprise packages for good measure.

“I remember hearing about this one little girl who was turning five,” says Thomas. “She told her parents that she wanted to have a TLC party. You couldn’t call her by her real name – she insisted on being called Chilli. I sadly couldn’t go to her party, as we had some other stuff on at the time, but I got to meet her and I got to invite her out to come see our rehearsals for the tour we were about to do. It was especially amazing to me, given that she was even younger than my own son. From generation to generation, we’re still being heard.”

By David James Young